Headaches and migraines are among the most widespread pain-related health problems in both children and adults alike. According to Cleveland Clinic , they are the most common cause of absenteeism from work and school. Migraine sufferers alone lose more than 157 million work and school days in America every year because of headache pain. However, while headaches can be quite debilitating, most are not caused by a serious or life-threatening condition.
Headaches are defined by pain in any region of the head. They may be isolated to a certain location, occur on one or both sides of the head or radiate across the head from one point. Headaches can cause a throbbing sensation, sharp pain or a dull ache.
Some headaches may appear gradually, while others come on suddenly. The duration of headaches also varies, with some lasting less than an hour and others persisting for several days.
This section details more about the various types of headaches and potential causes of both headaches and migraines. If you are worried about your headache symptoms, there is also a comprehensive overview of the danger signs associated with headaches and migraines. For more information about diagnosis and treatment of headaches and migraines, see the last 2 pages of this section.
Headaches are defined as pain in any region of the head. There are four main types of headaches: tension-type headaches, migraine headaches, cluster headaches and chronic daily headaches.
The majority of headaches aren’t the result of a serious illness. Some common causes of headaches are:
Although rare, a headache may be the sign of a serious or life-threatening condition requiring emergency care. Serious conditions such as brain tumors, brain damage, meningitis, stroke or aneurysms may cause headaches. Headaches can also result from injuries to the head and brain, skull fractures and bleeding in or around the brain. Seek medical care urgently if you experience the following symptoms:
Despite how common headaches and migraines are, few people require special testing beyond a physical examination and a headache evaluation performed by your doctor. The physical exam involves an assessment of your head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck and nervous system. During the headache evaluation, your doctor will consider your medical and headache history, and will ask you to describe your symptoms as completely as possible.
No further tests are needed for obvious tension or migraine headaches. A headache that regularly shifts from one side to the other is also less likely to require further tests, since this suggests a less ominous cause such as stress or fatigue.
On the other hand, if you have pain that consistently occurs in the same location or on one side of the head, this could result from an underlying medical condition such as a tumor and may warrant a more detailed evaluation. If you have just started to experience headaches or your headaches have become worse, your doctor may also recommend additional testing.
If your doctor thinks there might be a problem with the central nervous system, he or she may order a scan using computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Both of these tests produce cross-sectional images of the brain that can reveal abnormal areas or problems.
Successful treatment is tailored to your needs and will depend on several factors, including the type and frequency of the headache and its cause. In many people, headaches can be well controlled with a combination of medicines and complementary therapies. These include education and counseling to identify headache triggers, exercise, stress management, biofeedback, and medications.
Try these below tips to help prevent headaches and migraines: